Disclaimer : what I’m about to say is incredibly unorthodox and may cause offense to some. I don’t necessarily believe what I write below, it is written in the ‘I am wondering about this’ tense. You have been warned!
Here’s a strange thought: I wonder if orthodoxy limits, rather than empowers, our perception of God. What do I mean by that? Well, I have been thinking a lot today about the progression of humanity throughout the years. It seems to me that perhaps our decision, as Christians (certainly as Protestants), to hold the Bible up as a sort of ‘final authority’ could perhaps be a stumbling block to our faith rather than a help.
Let me unpack that a little bit. I’ll start with Israel. The story of the people of Israel goes right back to Adam and Eve – the first humans. It goes right forward to the Jewish people in our modern day. It is a story of a primitive people evolving, along with all of mankind, into what we know of ourselves today. It is a story of an evolution of morals, ways of being, and primarily an evolution of the conception of God from a deity amongst others with specific remit to the one and only divine being.
The Israelites are taken on a journey from living in a world where you had to make this sacrifice to that God for this purpose. They went from there on to a more rigid, easy-going system designed to slowly remove the need for the system at all. The culmination of this, as I have alluded to in previous blog posts, is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ – the Son of God is sacrificed so outdoing, overpowering, and rendering totally useless all other forms of sacrifice.
Yet that’s where the story stops. Which is odd, when you think about it. There is no more evolution. In the words of Jesus, “it is finished”.
But it isn’t, is it? Jesus kick-started a whole new way of being which we are still trying (and frequently failing) to get our heads and hears around (me included). This is not the end. This is the beginning.
We live in a connected, global village. Our ability to communicate with millions of other people across the world with very little effort is an incredible, culture-reshaping thing. We have discovered whole new ways of life – new ways of thinking, of being, of believing.
I find myself immensely drawn to a great deal of Eastern mysticism. Not because Jesus, and the good news within the Bible is insufficient, but because I can see so many parallels and I am intrigued by them (don’t worry, I’m not about to ‘convert’). What I find fascinating is the fracture between the more mystic approaches and the God of the Israelites. The most outstanding fracture seems to me to be personality.
Now I am no expert on eastern religions or philosophies, but there seems to me to be a sense in which the divine would be ‘boxed in’ by giving it/him/her/something things such as a name, a gender, even a personality. I can’t help but wonder if that is something that we can and should learn from. An enlightenment for our culture perhaps long overdue.
“The Bible would say otherwise”. Hmm, well, perhaps. But perhaps it would also stipulate that slavery is OK (it doesn’t outlaw it even in the new testament). We all know that slavery is inherently wrong (or, is it? if the Bible doesn’t say…). No, we know it is wrong. We have moved on since then. Yet we insist on blocking out new ideas, deeper ideas, because of our orthodoxy.
Perhaps it’s just me. Let me give an example. In his DVD ‘The God’s Aren’t Angry’, Rob Bell implies that the Jesus narrative is essentially one of a super-sacrifice (as I allude to above). The logical conclusion from this is that Jesus’ death was not some sort of penal substitution but was instead a symbolic (albeit real and painful) gesture within which God is crying out “Really guys, it’s OK, it’s always been OK, stop trying to make it OK!”
Our orthodoxy stops us short of that. Our orthodoxy tells us that Jesus had to die for our sins and that what happened was so that things could be OK. But what if we’re just missing the point? What if the point is that it was OK all along, and we shouldn’t worry so much about being ‘right’ with some disappointed personality?
Our orthodoxy comes from the Bible – from the gospels and from Paul’s writings to the early church. It is from this that we know the reason for Jesus’ death and resurrection. Yet this was written by men in the aftermath of Jesus’ death. Who’s to say that just like the lack of a dismissal of slavery, the early Christian writers were still stuck in the mindset of the need for a sacrifice, rather than recognising there was no need for one at all – and that this was the very point in the sacrifice (so I suppose there is a need, but not the one implied).
The problem is that we are unable to moot these suggestions because it is labelled ‘extra-Biblical’, or worse ‘un-Biblical’. Perhaps these are merely terms invented to keep us in line by those who have a vested interest in the religious status quo?
Just a thought…